While I have no comment on the status or otherwise of Kim Jong-un’s health, I was interested in the photos in the media today purporting that Jong-un attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony. As I trawled through the internet looking for the photos, I found several photos released by Yonhap News, North Korea of this event and Jong-un’s participation.
All of the photos were released under the same caption: N.K. leader reemerges after 20-day absence and with varying blurbs; here’s one: “North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) attends a ceremony to mark the completion of a phosphatic fertilizer factory in Sunchon, north of Pyongyang, on May 1, 2020, in this photo released the next day by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency. Kim made his first public appearance after a 20-day absence that sparked rumors about his health.”
Because Jong-un’s health is a current public question, with media speculating that he is unwell, perhaps even quite ill or worse, I was interested. Were these photos real evidence of Jong-un’s present robust good health?
At first glance they look pretty legit. But there are many significant issues with this portfolio of photographs.
The first thing that got my attention was the riotous colour of the celebratory cheer by a crowd festooned with flags, streamers, balloons and bouquets of flowers, surrounded by military troops of green and brown.
By comparison, the photograph of the assembly in the high elevation photograph is a somber affair of unrelieved black clothing.
Detail of fertilizer factory crowd
Since this is a small part of the photograph it is hard to decide if any of the green and brown military are present, but where are the balloons? the flowers? the streamers?
It didn’t seem to be a very sunny day, so I couldn’t depend on shadow evidence, so I looked for other clues. Or could I? I visited timeanddate.com  for yesterday’s weather in Pyongyang. Hmmm, sunny day and a bit warm, ranging between 23 and 27 degrees Celcius most of the day. And the high elevation photo does illustrate long shadows stretching towards the upper right of the photo. As I contemplated the perspectives I could see that shadows would be no help as the assemblage seems to be tucked behind a building to the lower left of the crowd.
Now where is that building in the other photos? Well, no buildings can be seen in the ribbon-cutting photo, so that’s no help. And the background to the photo in which Jong-un is standing and smiling for the camera doesn’t help either. The only other photo that could tell us is the one in which Jong-un is seated during a speech at the dais.
Now hang on, that isn’t the building either. In fact, where is the building from the high elevation photo at all? It isn’t there! And what are those red reflections in the windows of this photo? Oh, they are the reflections of the red streamers from the celebratory photo. That means that this photo and the celebratory photo (or at least most of it barring the banner and artist’s rendering) were not taken at the factory where the ribbon is being cut.
So I looked a bit closer at the artistic rendition of the factory behind the seated officials including Jong-un in the celebratory photo (quite small but visible) and and the one in the ‘seated’ photo and ‘ribbon cutting photo’. Turns out that while they are very similar, closer scrutiny shows they are not the same.
And interestingly, note the large trees in the background (circled) that are not in the high elevation photo (below) where they should be.
The ‘seated’ photo was uploaded again to Yonhap News while I was writing this post. It was captioned: “People watch a news broadcast on a television at Seoul Railway Station in downtown Seoul on May 2, 2020. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appeared in public for the first time in 20 days, despite a wave of speculation that he might be gravely sick or even dead.” Fake news for the masses.
And one more little thing to point out before I stop – Jong-un’s sister’s hair seems to have grown quite a bit in one day!
Conclusion – these photographs are montages of pieces of photos taken at 2 different events at a minimum. As evidence of Jong-un’s public appearance on Friday 1 May 2020? Fail.
 Yonhap News 2 May 2020. https://en.yna.co.kr/view/PYH20200502021900315?section=image/general Accessed 2 May 2020
 https://www.timeanddate.com/weather/north-korea/pyongyang/historic Accessed 2 May 2020
All original photos downloaded from Yonhap News and used in accordance with Fair Use provisions of copyright law. All derivative photos are licensed CC:BY:NC.